Admiral Matelieff’s Singapore and Johor (1606-1616) contains a selection of documents and document extracts around and about the voyage of Admiral Cornelis Matelieff (or Matelief) de Jonge to Johor. Many of the texts come from the former working papers of Hugo Grotius. This attractive paperback, with a generous number of beautiful and apposite illustrations, is designed for use by students as well as advanced researchers. It contains a long introduction of over 80 pages by the editor, Peter Borschberg, lucidly outlining the issues covered by the contents of the book. Peter Borschberg has assembled a collection of rarely studied sources, notably Matelieff’s ‘memorials’ concerning the Singapore-Johor region and the state of Dutch trade in the East Indies. This is a continuation of his scholarly, detailed and often revelatory studies on the area’s geo-political and historical significance during the early seventeenth century.
Few authors have as much to say about Singapore and Johor in the early 17th century as Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge (c.1570‒1632). This admiral of the Dutch East India Company sailed to Asia in 1605 and besieged Portuguese Melaka in 1606 with the help of Malay allies. A massive Portuguese armada arrived from Goa to fight the Dutch at sea, break the siege and relieve the Portuguese colony. During his Asian voyage and on his return to Europe in September 1608, Matelieff penned a series of letters and memorials in which he provided a candid assessment of trading opportunities and politics in Asia. He advised the VOC and leading government officials of the Dutch Republic to take a long-term view of Dutch involvement in Asia and fundamentally change the way they were doing business there. Singapore, the Straits region, and Johor assumed a significant role in his overall assessment. At one stage he seriously contemplated establishing the VOC’s main Asian base at a location near the Johor River estuary. On deeper reflection, however, Matelieff and the VOC directors in Europe began to shift their attention southward and instead preferred a location around the Sunda Strait. This was arguably a near miss for Singapore two full centuries before Thomas Stamford Raffles founded the British trading post on the island in 1819.
Two of the longest documents in this volume are the excerpts from Admiral Matelieff’s Journal of his voyage to Asia (1605–1608), and excerpt from Matelieff’s Memorial of June 1607, both of which contain astute observations on Johor, on the conclusion of the Dutch–Johor treaties of May and September 1606 as well as other related matters. Other fascinating documents include the letters written by King Ala’udin of Johor and Raja Bongsu to Prince Maurits (the stadhouder or Stadholder of the Dutch Republic). Although translated from the original Malay into Dutch (and now into English), they still reflect a Malay perception of diplomacy and international relations. The study of diplomatic correspondence between Asian potentates and European rulers or governors-general continues to be essential to a deeper understanding of how the rulers of indigenous states dealt with Western diplomatic and commercial norms. The archives of the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) are especially rich in this genre of correspondence, for instance the diplomatic letters from Asian rulers to the Governors-General and Council in Batavia included in the daily journals of Batavia Castle (Daghregister Batavia).